Fossils of an ancient reptile called captorhinus revealed that the animal used an escape trick to evade meat-eating predators.
In a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Monday, Robert Reisz, from the University of Toronto Mississauga, and colleagues revealed that the creature detached its tail from its predator to avoid getting eaten.
The trait made the animal successful that by the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago, the species became the most common reptile of the ancient supercontinent Pangea.
The tiny reptile, which weighed just about 4.5 pounds when it lived 289 million years ago, had what is known as "cracks" that allowed them to drop their tail and run away, just like modern lizards.
Researchers explained that the tail of this reptile had a bone structure comparable to a paper towel. Paper towels have a perforated line that keeps them attached but makes it easy to pull the paper towels apart.
"If a predator grabbed hold of one of these reptiles, the vertebra would break at the crack and the tail would drop off, allowing the captorhinid to escape relatively unharmed," Reisz said.
Adults Grow Out Of Detachable Tail Trait
After analyzing more than 70 tail vertebrae and partial tail skeletons of juvenile and adult captorhinids, researchers found that adult captorhinids would grow out of the detachable tail trait.
In adult captorhinid, Reisz and colleagues found that the cracks often seemed like they were fused together. They said that this is actually logical because the juveniles were the ones that were at greater risk of being eaten.
Trait Reemerged In Lizards
The trait was beneficial for the survival of the creature but the species still eventually died out of the fossil record.
The trait reappeared in lizards some 70 million years ago. Many other modern-day species also have detachable body parts. Researchers, however, said that the captorhinid is the oldest known species with the special tail trait.
No Evidence Captorhinids Could Regenerate Their Tails
Modern lizards are known to be capable of regenerating their tails. The researchers, however, said that they have not found any evidence that suggests the ancient reptiles were capable of regenerating their lost tail.
"As in modern iguanid lizards, smaller captorhinids were able to drop their tails as juveniles, presumably as a mechanism to evade a predator," the researchers wrote in their study. "To date, there is no evidence to suggest that captorhinids were able to regenerate a lost portion of their tail in any comparable way to modern lepidosaurian species,"